Day 4 – Brewood to Gnosall
Sunday evening cleared brighter and the good weather rolled over into Monday morning. Again, we weren’t under any time constraints so after a leisurely breakfast we headed further north on the Shropshire Union canal towards Wheaton Aston and navigate a favourite Telford gem.
Stretton Aqueduct, a crown for the Roman road it crosses.
Brewood is bounded on it’s northern edge by the old Roman Road of Watling street, the main trunk route in this area to North Wales. Our home base, Gailey Wharf is also on this road (A5) about 5 minutes east by car, a journey that’s taken us 3 days by canal! Clearly we’re taking it easy!
Tucked in the south west corner of the canal and A5 intersection is Belvide reservoir. This water source was created in 1833 to supply the canal and now a wildlife reserve and Site of Special Scientific interest.
The canal crosses the A5 via Stretton Aqueduct one of the last bridges constructed in local engineering legend, Thomas Telford’s lifetime. A tiny structure in comparison to his more famous mega-bridges but it has a poetic delicacy all of it’s own. Like a discrete signature at the bottom of a life’s work in the same vain as Terence Cuneo’s mouse (here, for those of you unfamiliar with the railway artist).
Leading edge construction
The aqueduct was built in five sections, each 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) long, held together by bolts and supported by six cast iron arch ribs. Each rib is in two sections and joined at the centre of the arch. The castings were produced by William Hazledine of Shrewsbury. The trough is 21 feet (6.4 m) wide with an 11 feet (3.4 m) wide channel of water and a towpath on either side.
Telford was responsible for much of the upgrades to the old Birmingham and Liverpool Junction canal. His revolutionary civil engineering techniques dug the cuttings and the spoil extracted used in building the embankments that straightened miles of old contour canal reducing its length by 19km.
Shortly after, the canal swings left into the shallow cutting of Lapley Wood. Although not as steeply sided as some of the cuttings on this stretch, still heavily treed with a glorious canopy. This natural defense against erosion – tree roots hold the ground together – was widely used by Telford whether for roads, canals or the new railways. And it leaves us a verdant legacy along this stretch of the Shroppie.
Emerging from the cutting the long open run into Wheaton Aston is revealed from the vantage point of the only lock with a notable change in level in the southern end of the Shroppie.
Wheaton Aston mooring notes
The lock was very leaky when we used it (due to be closed on the off season for a gate repair) so it was tough to open coming up. I’m sure a few boaters slyly nudged the gate with the nose just to get it open enough to let the canal in. We were dropping into the cutting so less of an issue for us.
There’s a good complement of CRT services here, 4 (count them four!) water points, sewage pump-out and recycling facilities. Across the canal in the nose of the winding point is a farm selling fresh eggs and home reared pork. There’s plenty of mooring after the Tavern bridge (Bridge 19). Mooring south of the bridge (opposite the Hartley Arms) is always very busy; there’s a better chance on the other side. However, walk back and check out the regular traders boats for one-of-a-kind canal finery and home-made comestibles.
There’s a local Spar supermarket in the village centre, 5 minutes walk from the moorings. If you’re desperate the post office stocks essentials just a minute away.
For the architecture buffs the area is strewn with listed buildings, details here.
Unashamedly, our favourite canal side pub
The Hartley Arms is alongside the canal over the road bridge. It’s a challenge not to gush about this pub as it’s been a not-that-local favourite of ours for years (my folks live between Cannock and Lichfield). It looks and feels like a proper country pub inside and will please tourists. I know that sounds strange but some pubs have undergone interior ‘refreshes’ that didn’t always turn out for the better. This one fits the bill. The food IMO is the best value on the canal in this part of the country. It ranges from good honest pub food to fine dining and reservations are essential for their Sunday carvery. A well deserved 4.5 Trip Advisor blobs.
As it happened we didn’t stop here on our way north (we met up with my parents on the way back) partly because we’d driven here from Gailey for a lunch only the previous week! We had another catchup scheduled in Gnosall for the next day and another pub awaited!